Excess all areas: A life in rock'n'roll

When American showbiz lawyer Steven Machat entered the family business, he dealt with Michael Jackson, James Brown, Sam Cooke and many more. In this exclusive extract from his memoir he gives some of his recollections
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Sam Cooke

One my father, Marty's, artists was Sam Cooke, who really invented pop soul for whites with two tracks I could never get enough of: "Chain Gang" and "Wonderful World".

Sam had charisma and was fun to be around. There he was: the public good-doer, this doting father and faithful husband to the beautiful wife. But in music, as in life, image and reality can be strange bedfellows. Although Sam was brought up in the gospel tradition of the church, there was more than a little a bit of the devil in that man. He suffered from an itchy dick and would wonder out at night to party and hang out in the haunts. Eventually his luck ran out.

When Sam died at the Hacienda Hotel in LA, the official version was that Cooke had been shot by the hotel manager Bertha Franklin in self-defence after breaking into her office buck-naked.

The story went that he was wearing nothing but a shoe and overcoat after getting into a dispute with some chick. She claimed she had taken his clothes by mistake while escaping the hotel room because she was convinced he was about to rape her.

This version has always been clouded in controversy and Cooke's family have claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy. My father never bought either theory. He told me much later that Cooke had been fucking the wrong chick and that when her husband discovered them together, he had chased Cooke and then shot him.

Ahmet Ertegun and Henry Kissinger

I'm sat with Henry Kissinger and the boss of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun. Ahmet's and my mutual drug-dealer had just entered the room. I was convinced we were about to do blow together...

"Dr Kissinger, this is Steven Machat and he is one of the most educated people in the music industry and a real worldly citizen," said Ertegun.

Within minutes of sitting, the buzzer went on the intercom. Ertegun was told that a different kind of doctor altogether was waiting outside. Without missing a beat Ahmet said: "Show him in."

In walked Dr A, who was a doctor only in the sense that he dispensed mother Earth's processed goods for the music business without any licence to practice. Dr A was the drugs dealer to the New York scene.

Ahmet smiled: "Everyone, this is my doctor. Dr A, this is Dr Kissinger. Dr A, this is Steven Machat, a good friend of Atlantic Records."

I decided to keep a diplomatic silence, only too well aware that this could go horribly wrong. Dr A and I shook hands as if we'd never met. Dr A then shook Kissinger's hand and smiled awkwardly, because what could he say? "Hello, I'm Ahmet's drug dealer..."?

Ertegun turned to me. "Steven, Dr Kissinger. Please excuse us for a moment. The doctor and I have things to discuss, in private."

Ahmet turned to me. "Now, who did you say you were here to see?"

Very politely, I was being told that I was being dismissed.

Turning to Henry Kissinger, I shook his hand farewell.

"Thank you, it was a pleasure meeting you, Dr Kissinger. I'm a big fan of your balance-of-power diplomacy."

Three hours later that day, I finally got hold of Dr A. He said: "I can't believe how cool you were."

"I can't believe that just happened," I replied to him. "I wonder if Kissinger did any drugs?"

Peter Gabriel and Womad

In August 1981 I was in London to catch up on business. On the other end of the line was Peter Gabriel.

He said, and he was stuttering: "Look, I've got some people I know from Bristol who want me to head up this international music festival. If your father isn't around I'd like to run the idea past you..."

I explained that I had been to Brazil and had signed up a woman called Rita Lee because I thought "world music" was where the future lay.

I had the first Electro act, Krisma, from Italy, and was looking wider afield than just the US and UK for music.

"I love world music too, Steven, but I am not sure how commercially viable it is," wondered Peter.

I said to him: "Why don't we play it out and see?"

Gabriel said: "What do you mean?"

I said: "Why don't you introduce me to your friends?"

But Gabriel was still thinking things through: "How will we fund it?"

I told him not to worry: "I'll figure it out."

Gabriel was beginning to warm to the idea: "OK, why don't you come down to Bath and we can have tea and crumpets."

I took the train down to Bath and we met in this quaint tea shop with Peter, Thomas Brooman, Martin Elbourne and Stephen Pritchard. Amid the middle-aged tourists, senior citizens and cream teas we began discussing about how to give shape to their dream, and I decided to cut to the chase. I told them that I would deliver Machat and Machat, secure them a record deal and, with their introductions, secure the artists who would then give me the finished masters to put on an album which would introduce the concept.

The World of Music, Arts and Dance (Womad) festival was beginning to take shape.

In return for securing the label deal, the Machats would get 20 per cent of the record proceeds, 20 per cent of Womad, and Gabriel and his colleagues could divide up the remaining 80 per cent.

I was fast becoming obsessed with this deal. I really thought that this music could break down so many barriers in the world. To attract the publicity, interest, artists and finance, Peter Gabriel became the reluctant public face of Womad. But Womad haemorrhaged money and I was left wondering how I could recover the situation. The members of Genesis rode to the rescue and agreed to a reunion concert to raise funds, to rescue what their management referred to as the "loony tune affair".

The reunion concert in the Milton Keynes Bowl in October 1982 saw some of the worst weather I have ever witnessed, because

Michael Jackson and New Edition

Michael Jackson was on the speaker-phone, we were on mute, and this was one strange conversation.

The self-proclaimed King of Pop was begging me to send on over a bunch of teenagers I managed so they could hang out with him. I began to see the funny side. Who wouldn't?

New Edition were back then the hottest teen band in America, with a string of hits and two smash albums, and the group were about to be the launchpad of the career of Bobby Brown, a second front-man whose charisma promised even better things to come for him and me. He had no fear. None.

The quartet quickly grew tired of Jackson because all he wanted to do was teach them to dance, eat popcorn and drink pop.

Eventually their security manager, Kaliho, had to get them the hell out of there because the boys wanted to beat the shit out of Michael. They wanted to get high and watch porno. Not get dancing lessons from someone who had never really grown up.

I remember afterwards one of them, seriously pissed, calling me. He said: "All Michael wanted to do was to teach us how to dance. He tried to teach us to dance using his hands and holding our hips. He made us watch home movies of him doing gigs at Disney when he was a kid. Steve, all we wanted to do was to smoke and watch Debbie Does Dallas. He was one sad motherfucker."

James Brown

When I showed up at the Brown show, I met up with Brown, his protector and his bodyguard. You could tell that they were high as kites, smoking blow, with bloodshot eyes to the fore.

As I stood at the side of the stage, I was astounded by Brown's pyrotechnics on the stage. You couldn't help but be knocked out by the man and his music. Then I noticed someone hovering in the shadows with something in his hand.

He had a pipe at the ready so Brown could take a blast whenever required. Personally, I had no problems with this, were it not for the fact that they were breaking the law and, more to the point, in public.

As the show went on, I also became increasingly worried about Brown having a heart attack given the amount of smoke he was taking on board.

When I spoke to Brown about this as he took a breather at the side of the stage, he just smiled at me and said: "When you reach the same age as me, you should be so lucky to feel this way. I feel great."

Mick Jagger, according to my father, had been hounding my Dad to set up a meeting with James because he admired his dancing style and my father had been more than happy to oblige.

My father well remembered the impromptu dancing lesson that Brown gave Jagger. If you saw Jagger's dancing style, you can see clearly that Brown and other rollers had heavily influenced it.

Phil Spector and Leonard Cohen

In 1977, my father was confronted by a big problem that was threatening his relationship with Phil Spector. Dad had negotiated Phil a label deal with Warner Brothers that involved Spector getting a huge advance before he delivered his future product. Unfortunately, Spector had failed to deliver the product and Warners wanted their money back.

Machat Senior came up with the answer: stick two of his top clients in the studio. My dad would then give the album to Warners to keep them happy, clear the debts, and keep both clients happy. But this involved two of his most problematic clients. Not just Spector but Leonard Cohen, who, like Phil, could not buy a pop hit in the US. Nevertheless, Death of a Ladies' Man was born. The album would become one of the most controversial productions of the 1970s for the press. My father handed me this poisoned chalice. The lyrics basically involved Cohen and Spector trying to get laid. Track titles such as "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On" might have been funny to me, but they sure were a hard sell to the labels.

If that wasn't enough, Cohen and Spector didn't exactly hit it off. An irate Cohen said to me in September 1977: "Are you out of your brains? This album is junk. It's your father's masturbation. I love Marty. He's my brother. But I never want to see that man Spector again. He is the worst human being I have ever met."

Cohen complained that he had been held at gunpoint by Spector during the recording sessions. "The man is crazy. We were drunk and stupid. I do not wish for this album to see daylight."

Warners quickly abandoned the album after its release with no promotion and eventually CBS, after much pushing by my dad, put it out in late 1977 in Europe. My father was so lucky that Spector and Cohen didn't fire him. He was even luckier that Warners forgot to ask for their advance back. Or chose not to.

This is an edited extract from 'Gods, Gangsters and Honour' by Steven Machat, published by Beautiful Books on 6 August 2009, hardback, price £16.99. Steven Machat will be appearing at the Green Man Festival in Wales on Saturday, 22 August